Union takes demands to Melbourne streets

Kaitlyn Offer
AAP

Australia's biggest union mobilisation in more than two decades has kicked off in Melbourne amid claims of a national workplace emergency.

More than 2000 delegates met at the city's Town Hall on Tuesday calling for stronger job security and pay, before hundreds took to the streets.

Town Hall's 1600 seats filled quickly, with standing-room spilling outside, as a thunderous chant began "stand up, fight back".

"We haven't done this in 20 years, because we've never had an emergency like we have today at our workplaces," Victorian Trades Hall council secretary Luke Hilakari told the meeting.

"Our workplace laws are fundamentally broken and it's time for us to stand together, to change those rules."

The event was the first of more than two dozen mass meetings and rallies that will be held across Australia in the next month for a union-wide Change the Rules campaign.

"We are drawing a line in the sand right here today, making a stand; we do not want to see people thrown out of their jobs, facing a 30 per cent pay cut," ACTU secretary Sally McManus told reporters.

"If we let that happen as working people, we'll end up like the working poor of America."

After the meeting, several hundred unionists marched through streets to the offices of Esso/ExxonMobil to rally with workers locked in a bitter dispute with construction engineering contractor UGL.

"We are a testament to how broken these rules are," former maintenance worker Troy Carter said.

"Last year 230 families had their lives turned upside down when we were sacked and offered our jobs back the very next day on a 40 per cent pay cut, on rosters that would see us at work at the discretion of the company.

"I've got two young kids and if we don't stick up and fight for them now, far out, it's just a dissemination, it's a race to the bottom."

Outside the Southbank office building, the unions attacked Exxon's tax record.

"It's no coincidence that they pay no tax and they treat their workers badly," Ms McManus said.

"Because they've got no respect for our rights in Australia, they've got no respect for our community."

A company spokesman said the unions were spreading misinformation about Esson/ExxonMobil and it has made a "significant contribution to Australia's economic wellbeing through the reliable supply of energy that helps fuel growth".

"It is disappointing that the unions attempt to impact our operations by contesting a lawful and market-driven change in our general maintenance contractor," he said.

"ExxonMobil Australia has a long history of paying its fair share of taxes in Australia, having paid more than A$2 billion in corporate income tax alone since 2000, as well as more than A$12 billion in Petroleum Rent Resource tax since 1990."

Change the Rules is the biggest union campaign since the "Your Rights at Work" effort in 2007, which targeted the Howard government's Work Choices policy and is credited for its demise.

The ACTU is waiting for the Fair Work Commission's decision on the latest minimum wage increase, which would take effect from July 1.